KPFK prospers as it reflects the chaos of American society
I was grateful to see Jim Rainey acknowledge the tremendous potential of KPFK Radio in his March 27 column, “Schism at KPFK leaves factions warring over programming, fundraising and leadership.” KPFK/Pacifica Radio is certainly unique: Committed to real free speech and social justice, the station is absolutely free from any corporate, business or big-money influence, an exemplary model of democratic discourse. In this regard, it is unrivaled among significant media outlets in America.
And as the Founding Fathers themselves understood, real democracy is brilliantly untidy.
Indeed, almost all polls suggest that U.S. citizens are profoundly dissatisfied with both the political system and the mainstream media. I posit that these frustrations stem from feeling disempowered -- that the institutions of our democratic society don’t work for them, that they don’t have a voice. KPFK/Pacifica exists to give people a voice. It may seem messy for those that value protocol above insight; but this practice, combined with fact-based journalism, works wonders for us.
Taking an example from history, the litmus test for journalistic and civic integrity is not whether a media outlet covered Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 (everyone covered him by then), but whether someone saying similar things a decade or so earlier was given coverage. KPFK/Pacifica passes that test time and again, while National Public Radio and, yes, The Times consistently fail it. More recently, look at the buildup to the Iraq war, or the bubble that preceded the financial crisis, or the gaming of the system that produced the California energy crisis, the entire two terms of President George W. Bush, or President Obama’s not-so-progressive first year in office -- we got all of those correct, while most mainstream outlets did not. It’s not because we’re uniquely prescient; it is because we allow the full breadth of social discourse to be heard. Social progress invariably occurs by allowing voices outside the mainstream into the dialogue.
Rainey focused on several challenges facing Southern California’s original public broadcasting outlet, particularly the acrimony that all too often defines the station’s democratic governance structure. It is important to note, however, that the chaos of KPFK’s Local Station Board meetings does not appear on our airwaves.
These days, KPFK’s programming reflects the station’s commitment to re-establishing itself as Southern California’s premier progressive media outlet, firmly grounded in the highest journalistic standards. KPFK remains equally committed to giving a voice to communities largely absent from other media; to airing the full range of contemporary social critics; and to providing a forum for cutting-edge artists, comics and musicians. This combination of inclusiveness with a renewed commitment to journalistic rigor has led to the substantial increase in audience that Rainey noted.
As for the gruesome length of our recent fund drives, there’s only one antidote: continue to improve regular programming so that more people recognize KPFK as essential to their lives. In my current position, I strive to manage the challenges of a diverse body of content; maintain our dedicated listeners who tune in for spirited, but accepting, discussions; and expand our audience by developing new, incisive programming.
In a society as complex as ours, it should be no surprise that there are many competing visions for how best to improve the world. In the coming years, expect KPFK to provide the essential information, as well as the best forum, for people seeking to build a just society in Southern California.
Alan Minsky is interim program director of KPFK.
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